Tofu is a truly magical ingredient capable of being served in shatteringly crisp cubes, in tender jiggling squares, or whipped into sweet mousses. We know, however, that transforming the pale ivory blocks of tofu found at the grocery store into something delicious requires some care and preparation. Here are our top five tips to make truly tasty tofu.
1) Freezing Tofu
Before you even think about cooking your tofu you’re going to want to freeze it. We know this may seem counterintuitive, but hear us out. Tofu has lots of water in it. When a block of tofu is frozen, the water inside freezes and expands creating pockets and holes in the soybean curd. Once defrosted and pressed, these holes turn the tofu into a sponge capable of holding onto sauces and marinades.
We also like the texture of frozen tofu because it feels more meaty, which works really well when you have lots of sauce like in our recipe for Braised Tofu with Green Bell Peppers. If you’re serving a dish where the slippery, wobbly texture of tofu is what you’re after, like in a Miso Soup, then we don’t recommend freezing it.
2) Brining Tofu
One easy step to infuse tofu with additional flavor is to brine it. Soaking pieces of tofu in hot salted water helps to season the interior and to drive out excess water from the inside. It’s a win-win situation. The easiest way to brine tofu is to bring 6 cups water and ¼ cup salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Cut a 15 ounce block of tofu into ½” thick slabs, remove saucepan from heat, and submerge tofu in the hot, salty water for 15 minutes. After brining, we recommend pressing your tofu.
3) Pressing Tofu
Pretty much all forms of tofu benefit from some pressing to extract the excess water from the interior of the block. Extra firm and firm tofu need a fair amount of pressing, whereas soft tofu merely needs a blot with paper towels. The less water in the tofu, the more flavorful it will be. Whether you use a press made specifically for extracting water from tofu or if you layer slabs of tofu between towels and set a heavy skillet on top of them, nearly any tofu recipe will benefit from this treatment. We recommend pressing for at least 15 minutes. Once you’ve pressed your tofu be sure to dry it thoroughly.
4) Seasoning Tofu
After freezing, brining, and pressing your tofu it’s time to add some seasoning. This could be in the form of a dry rub or wet marinade. From teriyaki to barbecue, there isn’t any sauce that doesn’t pair well with tofu. We like to let our tofu sit in marinade for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight. We like to season in advance when we slow cook or sous vide or tofu. If we want to get a crunchy texture, however, we like to cook the tofu before adding any sauces.
5) Cooking Tofu
Unless we’re eating silken tofu with chili crisp or tucking into a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup (which taste best with soft tofu), we want our tofu crispy and crunchy. The best way to get crisp tofu is to give it the high heat treatment. Start with cubes of bone-dry tofu. Heat ¼ cup high-heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tofu in an even layer (you can also toss the tofu in a little bit of cornstarch to absorb excess moisture) and fry for 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown. Transfer tofu to a paper towel lined plate.
You could stop here and enjoy your crispy tofu with a side of dipping sauce, or you could turn the skillet heat to low, add 1 cup sauce and tofu, and stir to coat until tofu has softened and sauce is fragrant. And voila! In just 5 easy steps you can have delicious tofu packed with texture and flavor.